Factsheet: About the UPU

18.10.2018 - Established in 1874, with its headquarters in Berne, Switzerland, the Universal Postal Union is the world’s second oldest international organization. With 192 member countries, the UPU is the primary forum for postal cooperation between governments, Posts, regulators and many other postal sector stakeholders.

The UPU helps ensure the provision of a truly universal postal service, with physical, financial and electronic dimensions. It does this primarily by:

  • establishing multilateral cooperation and agreements;
  • developing technical and quality-of-service standards;
  • providing technical assistance and development cooperation;
  • regulating worldwide traffic of international mail;
  • monitoring market trends;
  • making recommendations for modernizing postal products; and
  • fostering dialogue among all postal sector players.

As a United Nations specialized agency, the UPU has a mandate to promote global socio-economic development and help its members contribute to the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals for 2030.

How the UPU works

At each quadrennial Universal Postal Congress, the UPU’s 192 member countries come together to make rules, set policy and approve a new strategy for the next four-year work cycle. The strategy for 2017–2020, known as the Istanbul World Postal Strategy, has three major goals:

  1. Improve the interoperability of network infrastructure;
  2. Ensure sustainable and modern products;
  3. Foster effective market and sector functioning.

Though the Universal Postal Congress is the supreme authority of the UPU, several other bodies coordinate the UPU’s work throughout the cycle:

  • Council of Administration (CA), comprised of 41 member countries, is a political body of the UPU, which studies regulatory, administrative and legal issues;
  • Postal Operations Council (POC), comprised of 40 member countries, is a technical and operational body of the UPU, which deals with operational, economic and commercial aspects of postal business;
  • Consultative Committee, which represents the interests of the wider postal sector and reports to the CA;
  • International Bureau (IB), comprised of 250 staff, is the Secretariat of the UPU located in Berne, Switzerland, which provides logistical and technical support to UPU bodies.

Background information

Pre-255 BC: Kings and emperors begin using messengers.

255 BC: The oldest known postal document, found in Egypt, dates back to this time.

Middle Ages and early modern period: Religious orders and universities set up systems to exchange news and information. Relay stations are created to help ease delivery over long distances. Private citizens start using messengers.

17th–18th century: Countries begin forming bilateral agreements to exchange mail.

19th century: A complex web of bilateral agreements begins to impede trade and commerce.

1840: Sir Rowland Hill introduces prepaid postage on letters in the United Kingdom, with uniform rates for domestic service. The world’s first stamp, the “Penny Black”, is distributed.

1863: The Postmaster General of the United States, Montgomery Blair, calls a conference in Paris to develop form an international postal agreement. Fifteen European and American countries attend and lay down princi­ples for mutual agreement, but no agreement is settled.

1874: The Swiss Government convenes an international conference at the suggestion of Heinrich von Stephan, a postal official from the North German Confederation. Twenty-two nations attend, and the Treaty of Berne is signed on 9 October, establishing the General Postal Union and creating a single postal territory.

1878: The Union’s name is changed to “Universal Postal Union” to reflect its quickly expanding membership.

1948: The UPU becomes a specialized agency of the United Nations.

Present day: The UPU now has 192 member countries.

The Post at a glance

With more than 677,000 outlets across the globe and some 5.3 million staff, the Post represents the largest physical network in the world. This makes it a perfect partner, not only for providing traditional communication services, but also for providing access to governmental, financial and trade services in even the remotest areas.

In 2016:

  • 303.2 billion letter-post items were exchanged;
  • 8.9 billion parcels were exchanged;
  • 39% of global postal revenue came from letters, 23% from parcels and logistics, 18% from financial services, and 20% from other product and service categories.

(Postal statistics: Postal Economic Outlook 2018)



Comments (1)

  1. Dirk at 19.01.2016
    Test comment.

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